New Delhi: Area planted under wheat, the main winter crop, is 6% lower than the year before, showed data on progress of Rabi sowing released by the agriculture ministry on Friday.

According to the ministry, wheat has so far been planted in 19 million hectares, compared to the 20.4 million hectares sown by this time last year.

Lower area this year due to lack of ample soil moisture and delayed plantings may lead to a smaller crop in 2017-18 compared to the record 98.4 million tonnes harvested in 2016-17. According to the agriculture ministry, lower plantings have been reported from states such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, among others.

Wheat area is lagging behind last year’s numbers despite a hike in government announced support prices by Rs110 per quintal year-on-year (to Rs1,735 per quintal)—the highest in six years, and doubling of import duties to 20% (in November) to encourage domestic growers.

However, overall plantings of winter crops like grains, pulses and oilseeds are only marginally lower than the year before. So far an area of 44.2 million hectares has been planted under different crops compared to 44.8 million hectares by this time last year.

Usually 62.4 million hectares are planted under Rabi crops which are mostly grown under irrigation. Planting of winter crops begins by October and the crops are harvested March onwards.

Area under different pulses is 6.6% higher than last year but planting of oilseeds are 6% lower year on year, the data shows. As per the agriculture ministry, 12.8 million hectares have been planted under pulses so far, compared to 12 million hectares planted by this time last year. However, 6.8 million hectares are sown with oilseeds so far, lower than the 7.2 million hectares last year.

A robust winter harvest is critical for India to improve its farm growth rate as production of rain-fed Kharif foodgrains during 2017-18 is estimated to be 2.8% lower year on year following patchy rains in parts of the country during the June to September south-west monsoon.

Agriculture growth during the second quarter of 2017-18 (July to September) fell to 1.7% from a high of over 4% seen during the same period in 2016-17, showed gross domestic product data released by the government last week.

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